But before we do, we'll learn which resident failed his or her exams in "Let the Bad Times Roll" (Thurs., May 3, 9 p.m. ET on ABC).
As the residents flash back to their stressful exams, reliving every little detail, there's also some other major events for Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) to rehash. He discovered his mom, Catherine (guest star Debbie Allen), getting way too cozy with Richard (James Pickens, Jr.), and instantly proceeded to cross some sexual boundaries of his own by sleeping with his virginal, saving-herself-for-Jesus best friend April Kepner (Sarah Drew). And then, in a move that left some viewers' jaws on the floor, he didn't even stay to cuddle!
I caught up with Williams to talk about what's next for Jackson and Kepner, and whether or not either of them can move past what happened. Williams said the storyline is far from over, "This isn't something that's going to solve itself in a week," and he also dished about Jackson finally confronting his mom. (Seriously -- it's about time.)
Then, of course, there's the buzzed-about Season 8 finale, "Migration." "It's a special one this year. It's important and it's tragic and, yes, it's been revealed that we're going to lose somebody that we love," he said. Are you prepared? Keep reading for more ...
Oh my, Jackson Avery -- I was freaking out last week.
[Laughs.] Were you? You didn't see that coming?
Some of it, yes, but definitely not the part where Jackson got up and left Kepner!
Yeah, we actually went over that scene, Sarah Drew and I and also with Shonda [Rhimes, the showrunner] and some of the writers, just making sure that we understood it and what our motivations were, and making sure that it was complex and layered and that it's consistent with the characters, but also spontaneous and surprising. And maybe regrettable. They care about each other deeply -- as friends. Have they thought about each other like this before? Will they think about each other like this again? Will they let their emotions or potential feelings of regret or self doubt allow them to lash out at each other? Or are they going to keep that kind of sacred, and treat each other right? That's something that we tried to really be careful with because this isn't something that's going to solve itself in a week. They're not going to magically go off into the sunset as a great couple, and they're not going to never speak to each other again -- it's going to be a weird terrain between now and whatever the end game is, so we're really excited about playing that. That makes it more interesting.
Did you ever think they'd really hook up?
If you'd asked me a year ago, I wouldn't have wanted them to get together because I think it's really cool to have a platonic relationship between a heterosexual man and woman, but I think we've shown that ... I think that, now, people all get thrown into things in the heat of the moment, and how do they handle that? How do they live with that? We know that there's a million ways for this to go badly, but I'm more interested in exploring both that and how it could go well. You know, how you can treat somebody on a Tuesday, and then treat them differently two weeks from now.
Well no one's platonic forever in Shondaland -- that's not what the fans want!
[Laughs.] I know! We were surprised we made it this far.
Do you think Jackson feels genuine guilt about taking Kepner's virginity, or do you think he's got too much else to worry about with the exam results and his mom sleeping with the chief?
I think what Jackson's dealing with is kind of two-pronged. Even in the moment, he was like, "We shouldn't do this. We shouldn't do this -- you're a virgin, this isn't the way it should go." But she assured him and assured him again in a very sober, clearly stated, articulate way. She's the more fragile one -- so we think -- and I'm the guy and I'm experienced and all of those things. But then, on top of that, to have her reveal that "I've been saving myself for Jesus" means, to him ... I mean, we're best friends, I'm supposed to know everything about you. How the hell have you kept that from me? And, more importantly, why? Why did you think you weren't safe telling me or anybody that? What does that mean? That means that she didn't feel safe or comfortable or maybe even confident in her own beliefs ... we know what it's like to wonder if we believe what we say we believe because we believe it, or because we're told to believe it, or because it's fashionable or our parents raised us that way.
We're able to really deal with the layered complexity of belief systems. Being a scientist, being a medical doctor, while having very strong, fundamental religious faith ... that cannot be easy for anybody to juggle. So we get to kind of explore all of that and explore what a friendship is, and I think all the viewers can relate to having trust in another person and then finding something out about them years later and being like, "Wow. I can't believe I didn't know that. Am I more invested in this relationship than you are?" I think we're going to see that push and pull really play itself out.
We know your fabulous TV mom, Debbie Allen, is back this week with some not-so-great news for one of the residents. What can you tease about that?
We're gonna have to have a confrontation -- Jackson's gotta find a way to let her know. Mom is always meddling. She's always hilarious and provocative. She's charming. She's beautiful. She's a kick-ass surgeon. But every time she comes around, Jackson runs because he knows that it cannot end well. She's a meddler. This time, though, he's worked his whole life for this weekend, to take this test and pass it. Not passing it would be life-altering, career-shattering, and his legacy ... it'd be super embarrassing and humiliating. This is the most important weekend for him professionally. And you are not only here meddling in my life, but you're sleeping with some guy and I have to potentially walk in on it? And it's not just some guy -- it is the chief! I have to work with this guy! You couldn't have overstepped more boundaries, in a matter of hours, on the worst possible day ever. And you're putting me in jeopardy of failing my boards -- I'm prepared for these boards, I'm a good test-taker, I win every damn contest in that hospital!
But it was that sabotage that finally gave us the parallel between Jackson and his mom -- he immediately went and self-sabotaged with Kepner!
Exactly -- and at the same time. I think that was really well-written, that they're both engaging in this sexual behavior that, you could argue that it's wrong and that you should know better. You could also argue, "Why the hell not?" You can make arguments for both sides, but you know that if you're going to do this, do it next week. Why are you doing it right now? It's preventable, but you're exactly right that it's what they have in common -- they're so used to succeeding and doing well, that if we don't have obstacles, we're going to create our own obstacles.
Yep, they've gotta make it interesting!
So many things have leaked out about the finale already. Do you think fans are still going to be truly surprised by the finale?
I really hope so ... I really do. It reminds me of promoting "Cabin in the Woods," this movie I did that's also shrouded in mystery. That's the point of it -- we're trying to sell this mystery. And the parallel is that we have so many spoilers, and we're on Twitter and we're online and we're always getting sneak peeks and previews ... and I really like the old school way. We read [the finale] for the first time and loved it -- I want the audience to be able to experience it like that. The beginning, the middle, the end and watch the reveals and be surprised. I miss that kind of storytelling, so I really hope that the spoilers don't get in the way. I'm always very opposed to spoilers; I know we have to create some excitement to draw ratings, but I hope that fans will try to avoid it a little bit, because it's a special one this year. It's important and it's tragic and, yes, it's been revealed that we're going to lose somebody that we love. I'd like to watch it kind of play out and get organic reactions from the audience.
Watch a sneak peek of Jackson during his oral boards:
"Grey's Anatomy" airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.